Horseback Riding 101

When you are going to ride a horse—what do you call it? How do you tell your friend in a succinct way that you are going to try being an equestrian?

There are a lot of terms used to describe riding a horse, but the most common is “horseback riding.” It’s an umbrella term that covers all the disciplines in the equestrian (horse) world.

How to Ride a Horse

Learning to ride a horse is, in a way, like learning to ride a bicycle. It is best to start with training wheels (like a lunge line or private lessons) and once you learn how to ride, you don’t really forget.

The Basics

Though there are different disciplines, the basics are the same. Walk, Trot, Canter (also called Lope in the Western horse world), and Gallop are the four gaits for the horse.

Regardless of what gait you are at, you will always want to remain balanced and upright in the saddle. Leaning too far forward or backward can cause you to fall.

In the riding world, we often use sounds to cue our horses. A lot of times you’ll hear a cluck to get a horse moving forward or even a kiss/smooch sound to get them to move to a different gait.

Clucks and kiss noises may vary between disciplines and even horses—but there is one common word in the equestrian language and that is *WHOA* which means stop!

English riding. Photo Cred: Scaled

Disciplines:

English: English riders use a smaller and lighter weight saddle. You will see English saddles in the Olympics. Some examples of English riding disciplines are Show Jumping, 3 Day Eventing, and Fox Hunting.

Western: Western riders have a larger saddle with a horn and generally longer (and wider) stirrups. Some examples of Western riding disciplines are Barrel Racing, Roping, and Trick Riding.

Western riding. Photo Cred: Canva

Riding Areas:

Arena: Riding in an arena can give you a sense of security as you’ll be riding in an enclosed space.

Arenas can be made of a variety of footing—from sand to specialty footing for performance horses

Trail Rides: Trail rides are great fun for any discipline! You’ll be out in nature and spending time with your horse.

If you are a beginner, it is not recommended that you go out on a trail ride alone.

Trail riding. Photo Cred: Canva

What are the best riding options for beginners?

Trail ride companies are a great option to get on a horse and see if it is something you’d like to pursue further.

If you’re interested in learning to ride at a younger age, look at programs through 4H and Pony Club. Girl Scouts of America also has a few riding programs like the Tejas Riders in Texas.

If you are older and looking to ride, I recommend looking at local horse show associations to get a list of trainers near you.

Regardless of age, you should always learn to ride from a professional.

Safety Around Horses

Horses are 1000 pound animals with their own brains. They can be dangerous if scared or spooked.

You want to make sure you are following basic horse safety rules to make sure you and your horse stay safe.

Equine Behavior 101

In the wild, horses are herd animals and also prey animals. They have a fight or flight response which can be dangerous in enclosed areas.

It is important to not spook a horse and when you are grooming your horse before your ride, make sure you speak softly and avoid their blind spots (directly in front and directly behind).

What to Wear when Riding a Horse

Whether on the trail or in a lesson you always want to wear long pants, shoes with a 1-inch heel, and a helmet.

Helmet: Every good lesson barn or trail ride company will require you to wear a helmet when you ride. If they say it is optional, do not take a lesson there—they don’t care enough about your safety.

When riding, you need an ASTM/SEI certified helmet, which is specifically made for horseback riding. Bike Helmets are not the same and do not protect your brain in the same way.

If you are looking to buy your own helmet, I recommend the Ovation Deluxe Schooling Helmet. I use this at home during lessons and it is breathable and affordable.

horse riding helmet

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Boots: If you are planning on more than just a trail ride, I recommend investing in some Paddock Boots. These are made specifically for riding and are a staple of every lesson program and barn.

If you’re going on a trail ride, any boot with a 1” heel would be a good option! You could wear cowboy boots or even combat boots!

Pants: To protect your legs from the saddle, you need long pants. Jeans are a great option as long as they are stretchy enough to move in.

For those planning to take lessons, riding breeches or jodhpurs are your best choice. These are reinforced at the knee for extra protection.

Photo Cred: Canva

Basic Horse Handling Skills

Horses understand body language and can tell when we are afraid or confident. It is important to stay focused and relaxed when working with horses.

How do you halter a horse?

To halter a horse, you will stand on the left side of the horse and slide the halter over the face of the horse. You will attach it by buckle on the left side.

Make sure you are not standing directly in front of the horse, that is a natural blind spot for them!

How do you lead a horse?

When leading a horse, you will always lead on the left side. It is encouraged to have one hand on the lead line a little below the clip that connects the line to the saddle, and the other near the end of the line.

It is important to remember to *never* wrap the lead line around your hand when leading a horse. At best, you are at risk of a nasty rope burn.

A horse can even spook from a surprise small bird in the barn.

How do you groom a horse?

When you go to groom a horse, you will follow this order:

  1. Pick Hooves: Do this first so you can make sure the shoes are still on and secure. I can’t tell you how many times a horse has lost a shoe in the field during turnout! You always want to pick out their hooves to make sure there are no small stones that can cause bruises when you ride.
  2. Curry Comb: this is an oval shaped plastic brush with teeth. You curry a horse in circular motions. It is great for lifting dirt and dead hair away from the skin.
  3. Hard Brush: the hard bristles of a hard brush are perfect to remove the dirt and dead hair your curry cumb brought up.
  4. Soft Brush: think of this as a finishing brush, it takes away finer dust and dirt! You should also use a soft brush on the horse’s face, if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you ride a horse?

There are many ways to ride a horse including a stride, or a side, saddle.

Riding a stride is the most common form, where one leg is on either side of the horse and the rider sits balanced in the middle.

Q: What is it called when you ride a horse?

Horseback riding, or simply riding. Equitation, or “equitating” can also be a term used to describe riding a horse.

Q: What is a beginning rider called?

A beginning rider may be called a beginning equestrian, a novice, or a green rider.

Parting Thoughts

Grooming and riding horses are a great way to get outside and spend some time away from your phone and the world! Just remember to stay safe and have fun!

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